By Sofia Maugham
I recently came to terms with the fact that people see me as a person of colour.
My people have been oppressed for centuries, for the way they look, the language they speak, and their cultural practices. Most still live in poverty, marginalised and beaten down, literally and figuratively, along with other minority populations. Incarceration rates are higher for people who look like me, who talk like me, who grew up like me. So are poverty rates and crime rates. But not education, or success, or even positive stereotypes or connotations. We are targeted unfairly by the law for crimes that we often do not commit and do not have enough representation nationally to begin to change the legal and political system to be fairer. We are targeted for immigrating, sometimes illegally, when this country was built on the backs of immigrants, not to mention slaves, and would not exist otherwise. We are targeted for existing.
But not me.
When I type “we”, it is forced, and more than once have I had to correct myself and delete the “they” that has subconsciously emerged in a flurry of keystrokes. When I apply for jobs or internships, my hand chokes before clicking or marking the checkbox that says “hispanic”. Is it really fair of me to take advantage of the privileges that affirmative action yields? Growing up light haired, light skinned, tall, english literate, in an upper middle class family with college educated parents, I feel like the idiomatic square peg when faced with the round hole of the stereotypes specific to my ethnicity. My adolescence, played out in Latin textbooks, big city art museums and the inside of the J Crew store is hardly the first image conjured up of the Hispanic experience of immigration, discrimination, and poverty.
Setting foot on a college campus in the South in a state not only infamous for its mistreatment of African Americans but also currently experiencing an enormous boom of Latino immigrants and ensuing xenophobia, my vision of my own identity shattered. Race became a visible part of the ongoing conversation and after incidents across the country regarding police brutality and social injustice towards people of colour and racists incidents by fraternity members were made public and protests began to occur on campus, I began to question where I stood between the oppressed and the oppressor.
My experience will never be anything like that of the majority of people who share a similar ethnic background as myself. I feel fraudulent joining in protests or conversations or organisations where I stand beside the persecuted simply because of my last name or Spanish ancestry. At the same time, I can never fully integrate myself any other ethnic group or try to pass as such, because my name is a little too foreign, my skin tans a little too quickly, and my fluency in Spanish a little too natural (not to mention the fact that my family hails from Spain).
I refuse to be force-fed the traditional Hispanic experience which is not my own, but simultaneously I have no interest in joining a culture that is completely irrelevant to mine and which would furthermore refuse to accept me as one of them.
Instead I live in between, not a person of colour nor someone who is colourless. My own personal grey area, if you will.
Sofia is a sophomore at Duke University.